The Royal Ascot Races are finally here, and we can all finally sink our teeth into one of the most highly-anticipated racing meetings in the entire world. The finest thoroughbreds compete not just for the prize money (over $12 million), but also for the prestige.
But that is only the half of it. The other half is the spectacle, the three hundred years of history, pomp, and pageantry, kept alive and well by British tradition and dress codes. No less than the Queen herself leads the way, and the rest of us are just doing our best to keep up. Like they sing in My Fair Lady, “Everyone who should be here is here.”
What It Is
The Royal Ascot is one of the five British Classics, long-standing Group One events that attract the best of the best in thoroughbred horse racing. Royal Ascot has 18 Group races, with eight in Group One.
Called Britain’s most valuable race meeting, the event dates back from the reign of Queen Anne. In 1711, she spotted a wide expanse of land in Berkshire that she thought would be suitable for racing. The first-ever race meeting on that racecourse was held that year, and monarchs have been attending it since.
This year’s Royal Ascot Races are even more special as they coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. Her Majesty has had a special love for horse racing since she was young, and has been in attendance every year except one.
There are three areas or enclosures from which you can watch the races.
The first is the Windsor Enclosure (formerly called Silver Ring). There’s no formal dress code, you can get close-up views of the horses as they pass by, and the atmosphere is much more relaxed. Tickets cost $65.
Next is the Queen Anne Enclosure (formerly called the Grandstand), the premier public enclosure. For $144, you get close access to the Pre-Parade and Parade Ring. There is a dress code, so be prepared.
Last is the Royal Enclosure, which is only accessible to members. If you’re not one, you’ll have to be sponsored by someone who has been a member for at least four years.
The Queen and her guests sit in the Royal Box.
The Royal Ascot Races go on for five days, the 20th-24th of June, Tuesday to Saturday.
Day 1 begins at 10:30 in the morning. There will be three Group One races, the first of which is the Queen Anne Stakes. Next comes the King’s Stand Stakes, and last is the St. James’s Palace Stakes.
Day 2 is more relaxed, with a slightly smaller crowd. The Group One Prince of Wales’s Stakes happens on this day — it’s considered by many to be “Royal Ascot’s most important race in the modern era.”
Day 3 energises the crowd once more — sartorial excellence takes centre stage for Ladies’ Day. The Gold Cup, Britain’s most important event for long-distance runners, is also held on this day.
Day 4 puts the leading three-year-old fillies front and centre for the Group One Coronation Stakes. Another Group One race, the Commonwealth Cup, is also held on this day.
Day 5 is the finale, with the Diamond Jubilee Stakes crowning the event. This is one of the world’s great international sprint races.
What to Wear
The other thing that makes the Royal Ascot Races so incredibly special is the endless parade of well-dressed racegoers.
Smart dressing, in other words elegant and ladylike, is encouraged in the Windsor Enclosure. There is no strict dress code.
The Queen Anne Enclosure requires ladies to wear a headpiece at all times. Strapless and sheer straps are not allowed, and neither are bare midriffs or shorts.
At the Royal Enclosure, the code is even more strict, as modesty is the name of the game. Straps are required to be an inch wider or more, skirts to just above the knee or longer, and a hat or a head piece with a solid base of 4 inches is required.
Take a look at my Royal Ascot fashion edit for ideas.
Track Mode is a horse racing and fashion site founded and curated by Nina O’Brien. Stay tuned for more on race day dresses and the thoroughbred life. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest and most exclusive race day fashion edits delivered straight to your inbox.